Winning Fox’s American Idol has to be a catch 22.
On the one hand, your get a great opportunity to break into the music business.
On the other, you’re almost branded the person who won the contest, leading many to think that’s the only reason you’re even making music instead of people thinking you actually have talent.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a tons of notable producers and songwriters working with you.
All of this must have been exciting yet overwhelming for the first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson. Her first album, “Thankful,” while a hit, was also a good example of someone still trying to find their voice. The album featured a little of everything — pop, ballads, pop-rock, soul, blues — but instead of flowing together cohesively, it came across as simply unfocused.
For “Breakaway,” the singer finally picks a musical direction (a polished mixture of pop and rock for the most part)… and in turn, can finally develop as an artist.
It’s hard to not bring up similarities between Clarkson and Canada’s Avril Lavigne … similarities that are deeper than Clarkson simply “sounding” more like Lavigne this time around. Not only did Clarkson co-write a handful of songs with former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody, Canadian singer/songwriter Chantel Kreviazuk and her husband Raine Maida (front man for Our Lady Piece), all of whom also wrote with Lavigne, but Lavigne herself co-wrote the album’s title-track.
Comparisons aside, Clarkson embraces her pop-rockette aspirations (evident on “Thankful” in tracks like “Miss Independent” and “Low”) on the fast-paced “Since U Been Gone,” the soulful “You Found Me” and the radio hit-worthy “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” a song that emulates Lavigne more than any other song on the album (Clarkson even has the trademark Lavigne intro-harmony “o-ooo-ooo” down pat).
The ballads seem to be where Clarkson shines brightest. The album’s mega-hit, the title-track “Breakaway,” shows Clarkson at her best: emotionally-charged delivery of hook-filled declarations of independence (if “A Moment Like This” was her thanks to fans for voting her the American Idol, “Breakaway” is her pointing out there’s a lot more to this supposed one-trick-pony). But “Because of You” is almost a better ballad simply because it seems like a more “real” song as there are far less (obvious) hooks.
“Breakaway” is what it is — harmless pop with rock hooks. Strip away the pro-tools and have Clarkson writing her own material, and I’m not sure what you’ll get. But such tactics are commonplace in the pop genre and I find it hard to fault Clarkson for anything here. She has a great voice and the songs are much better than more than half of the rest of the music said genre cranks out on an annual basis. So to say there’s little, if anything, to hate about “Breakaway” rings as good an endorsement as any.